At 62, John Mellencamp has spent his nearly 40-year career ﬁguring out exactly where he ﬁts in the American grain, and he’s never inhabited traditional folk and blues-imbued settings as personally as on his 22nd album. Singing with gruff directness, the recent divorcé deals with relationship struggles (the somber “Tears in Vain”), as well as broader societal and moral worry (the hard-driving “Lawless Times”). He recorded the album in Indiana with executive production by T Bone Burnett, who has brought his stripped-down approach to Mellencamp’s recent albums.
Since the release of his vintage 2010 gem, No Better Than This, heartland bard John Mellencamp has garnered more attention for his 2011 divorce from model Elaine Irwin and recently-ended relationship with Meg Ryan than his musical output, which includes a live album from 2003 released this past July; the soundtrack for Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a gothic musical Mellencamp conceived with Stephen King and T Bone Burnett; and the annual Farm Aid benefit concert which he cofounded with Willie Nelson and Neil Young in 1985. The outspoken poster boy for Americana before the term denoted a musical genre, Mellencamp has fully embraced its sound under the tutelage of Burnett, beginning with 2008’s amped-up folk release, Life Death Love and Freedom. With the release of Plain Spoken – his third with Burnett in the fold – the well of inspiration that sprung forth on that album and 2010’s No Better Than This has seemingly run dry.
John Mellencamp has spent the past decade paring his music to its acoustic roots, while struggling with existential questions and examining an America gone awry. He returns in a similar vein and with an even more deeply conflicted soul, on his uncompromising 20th studio record of original material. What remains of his jubilee has become more lonesome.
If ever there were a prototypical John Mellencamp title, it's Plain Spoken. Mellencamp has long striven for direct, forthright communication, so the title suits his overall aesthetic as well as this album in specific. His first album underneath a "lifetime" recording contract for Republic Records -- a deal that effectively amounts to his return to the Universal group -- this is also his first record since 2007's Freedom's Road not to be produced by T-Bone Burnett, but that titan of Americana has certainly left an imprint on the singer/songwriter.
New York Daily News (Jim Faber) Opinion: Fairly Good
Welcome to the music industry’s Super Tuesday. Today marks the start of the fall rush, when record companies open the floodgates, setting a pace of releases that won't cease until the last leaves drop. This year’s crop offers a veritable autumnal cornucopia, including Lady Gaga’s tete-a-tete with Tony Bennett, a solo debut solofrom Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and new works from Jennifer Hudson, Leonard Cohen, guitar hero Gary Clark Jr.